BY ROBERT J. SILVERMAN
Climate change is a serious, man-made problem. I am glad that it is one of our diplomatic priorities, and that one component—green buildings—is the focus of this month’s Journal.
At the same time, I wonder if our overall approach to other countries on the issue of climate change is muddied by the fact that the United States has historically benefited from the unrestricted use of carbon-based resources.
One U.S. environmental initiative helps clear the air literally and figuratively—the League of Green Embassies. It shows the United States leading by example through high-profile efforts to reduce our own embassies’ carbon emissions. Here are three reasons to love this initiative.
Policy Created, Led and Sustained by Management Officers. How refreshing it is to have a policy initiative expressed through concrete, meaningful actions. This is what can happen when management officers are in charge, for example, changing our vehicles, lighting, electricity generation, heating and, in short, ensuring that the way we live and work reflects our values and policy interests.
Leading by example in this way happens to be effective public diplomacy, as well. Europeans have heard our talking points. But what seemed new and interesting to them when I last served there was what the U.S. embassies in their cities were actually doing, which attracted attention and local media coverage.
The League of Green Embassies is helping to change European views about the U.S. commitment to climate policy goals.
Let me be specific. While serving as Embassy Stockholm’s management counselor, Mary Teirlynck proposed the idea for a League of Green Embassies at a fall 2007 offsite dedicated to the embassy’s alternative energy partnership with Sweden. I was a participant. The idea was that American embassies across the region should collaborate, combine and showcase their efforts on energy efficiency.
The embassy’s general services officers and Swedish staff quickly popularized the idea with counterparts at other European posts, which led to the creation of a website for trading greening ideas. You can find the site that has evolved here: .
The League became a strong advocate for greening our embassies worldwide, and now has more than 100 member missions.
Policy Originating at Overseas Posts, Not in Washington. A creative tension often exists between Washington and the field, with both sides playing their expected roles. But sometimes the roles can be reversed, with the field recommending policy and Washington proceeding to implement it.
Such was the case with the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. On the face of it, supporting a 1,000-mile pipeline connecting the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean was unlikely. That was the initial Washington reaction. But after U.S. embassies in the Caucasus and Turkey strongly advocated for the project, State eventually put its full weight behind it, coordinating the diplomacy and financial interagency in a sustained effort that took nearly 10 years. And thus a major foreign policy achievement of the Clinton administration was secured.
Such was also the case with the League, which was up and running in 2007, pressing for more greening initiatives. Similar thinking at headquarters complemented the League’s efforts, with key support from the Bureaus of Administration and Overseas Building Operations and the Under Secretary for Management.
Conservation As an Independent Virtue. Greening one’s chancery and embassy vehicles is a good idea in its own right, regardless of whether one believes in the worst-case scenarios of climate change.
As Secretary of State John Kerry has pointed out, greening leads to cleaner water and cleaner air. If applied at home as well as abroad, it can also slow the increase in U.S. consumption of oil and gas, allowing us to export more and, eventually, to reduce the world’s dependence on the oil and gas exports of other, unfriendly regimes.
For these reasons, I hope you will work with the League of Green Embassies. And as always, be well, stay safe and keep in touch.